How To Prepare Library Pride Displays: Book Censorship News, May 12, 2023

Books

With Pride just a few weeks away, it’s time for library workers to start thinking about the where, how, when, and what of their book displays. We know that queer books remain among the most targeted in the current book ban ~curation~ wave and we also know that Pride displays have historically been among the catalysts for book banners to come out against the library. Groups like CatholicVote are planning their “Hide the Pride” agendas, which — unfortunately — are extremely successful, even in communities unused to seeing book challenges or bans.

It is impossible to completely safeguard against what will happen in any library when it comes to Pride displays. But, knowing about the tactics used by book banners ~parental rights activists~ and knowing where and how to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ books — and people — help in preparing for the best, most effective library pride displays.

Among the suggestions below you’ll have easy-to-implement and manage ideas, alongside some that will likely need to be done more subversively. Maybe subversively isn’t the word, honestly. Perhaps a better way to phrase it is that some of these suggestions may bring direct activism into the picture in a way that has not always been common in public libraries.

But in today’s highly political library world, sitting back quietly is not an option.

1. Take photos of your display and/or track the books being put on them

There are a lot of practical reasons for tracking what is going on a Pride display. It’s useful to see and ensure good representation of your collection and community. It’s also helpful in the wake of Hide the Pride style campaigns — if books go “missing” en masse, you’ll have recorded what all of those books had in common.

2. Use QR Codes/Images of Book Covers for Displays

Because these displays are popular, both with readers and with bigots, consider having images of the books on display printed with a QR code or tinyurl link to their catalog entry. This will let your readers request titles that might not be on display and/or can be useful for if those titles go wandering. If you are in a library with little or no display space, use these as a display on the ends of your bookshelf, on a window space, or any other surface where patrons can see them.

3. Encourage Engagement

A book display is awesome because generally, people know they’ll find books at the library. But you can make your display even more engaging in a few ways.

  • Add reader’s advisory materials. This could be as simple as bookmarks or fliers with more LGBTQ+ books on them or a sign holder with a QR code to a curated list of queer books in your catalog.
  • Include fliers and information for local LGBTQ+ inclusive support groups and community organizations. This might be cards for local queer-friendly churches or bakeries, for local GSA groups, etc. If the library is a community resource, help spread the word about additional resources that are welcoming and supportive in the community.
  • Either of the above would be an opportunity to create a “donate to” call to action. You could have a sign reading “Want to support local LGBTQ+ youth? Scan the QR code to donate to our local chapter of PFLAG.” Whether or not you help raise money is not as vital as making it clear you have supportive spaces that you want people to know about.
  • Encourage library users to provide feedback on the display, and do it right at the display. I know, saying QR codes makes it sound like I’m in 2009. But a QR code to an online form or even a box with some golf pencils and paper that asks people to share their thoughts on the types of books and programs the library offers can go miles in helping you find your local supporters…and detractors.
  • How about a sign saying “Did you know you can request books for us to purchase?” with a call to action telling your patrons you’d love to expand your LGBTQ+ books and if they want to suggest any, do so via the print/online form. If they include their name, they’ll be first to know about the book’s arrival if purchased.
  • If your library is blessed with the space, create an opportunity for patrons to make a DIY LGBTQ+ display. Have a blank space with a sign saying “Share your favorite LGBTQ+ books here,” and invite folks to grab a favorite and put it on display. Bonus: this is some easy and fun passive programming, and if you worry about the books being checked out — a good worry, probably — offer some art supplies for folks to draw the cover of their favorite LGBTQ+ book.

4. Track Your Stats

Remember the part about keeping tabs on what books are on display? You’ll want to look at your checkout rates on those books sometime in mid or late July and see how circulation of those titles compared to the previous months. Chances are, it’ll be higher. That right there is worth sharing with your community and with your boards and other community stakeholders. Once people know you have the books, they want to read them.

5. Be Frank About Intellectual Freedom and the Library

Even if you don’t have the physical space for it, you should connect with your patrons digitally to keep them aware of book bans — and the LGBTQ+ books under fire — across the country. Let patrons and visitors know there are incredible resources out there talking about First Amendment rights and intellectual freedom. Include a handout and/or link on your website/social media to sources such as: Get Ready Stay Ready, PEN America’s report on the state of book bans in America (and additional resources on free expression), EveryLibrary, to Penguin Random House’s Book Ban Resource Hub, and to our own Literary Activism newsletter.

If you have a local group doing anti-censorship work, highlight them. If you don’t, share resources on how to begin an anti-censorship group.

Include information about local elections and why they matter (and if you’re in a school or library, you can tie that neatly into how your institution is taxpayer funded and taxpayers have the right to elect individuals who work on behalf of a whole community, not just those with close ties to them). You can also include information about local school boards and why they’re vital, as well as information about how people can get involved in their library board.

6. Be Prepared for a Challenge — and Be Transparent About Patron Rights

Be prepared to potentially have a book challenged. In the current book banning climate, it’s possible your display will become a target to the small number of censors who think they speak on behalf of an entire community. But know, too, you can head it off by making sure your collection development policies are up-to-date and you can stand behind them. The more accessible the information, the more transparent you are, and the more censors cannot argue that you hinder their rights to demand books not be accessible to an entire community.

If there is currently a book ban happening locally, highlight that. Whether it is your institution or not, giving these displays a local angle is extremely important. Believing this is a red state or blue state thing is dangerous and disingenuous; people deserve to know that it is happening in their backyard because it IS happening in their backyard.

7. Do No Display At All and Explain Why

It might not be legal to highlight queer books in your state or community. It might be PERFECTLY legal and even encouraged.

But imagine for a moment what a book display draped in a black sheet might look like with a sign as simple as “these books are illegal to share.”

There are a lot of implications to this, including that those who are already suppressed continue to be suppressed and that this silencing plays right into it. But also know it might be extremely effective — what happens if during Pride month, every queer book in the library is put behind the desk or popped into storage and people cannot access them?

This is the reality in far too many places.

If you go this route, keep the focus on the people and not the books. This is where creating handouts and accompanying material to educate patrons about censorship and intellectual freedom can do wonders. The people we need to reach are not online and may likely have no idea what’s happening across the country or in their own backyard.

But perhaps this can be one step in educating and waking them up.

Again: proceed with caution here. You’ll know if it’s right for your community or not. It’ll make a hell of a statement, and if it makes people mad, maybe they’ll be ready to write those letters and show up to the board meetings, demanding those books be put back, be made accessible, and that queer voices deserve just as much space as every other voice — June and beyond.

Another take on this idea might be wrapping the books in brown paper bags or putting them into ziplock bags that create one extra step of annoyance to your patrons who want to borrow the titles. There’s your opportunity to talk about what book bans do.

Some additional resources for library Pride displays you might find useful include this guide to what to do when you see Pride displays in libraries (perfect for sharing on your library’s social media, as this is patron-facing) and recent stories of the fight for and over Pride displays in public libraries.

Book Censorship News: May 12, 2023

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